Tyler James Hoare affectionately known by some as “The Red Baron” passed away on Tuesday, January 31. He was 82 years old.
Hoare’s biplane sculptures were a fixture of the Emeryville and Berkeley shoreline for decades delighting generations of locals and inspiring others to install their own rogue fixtures along the bayshore including the current Ghost Ship memorial by deceased artist Chris Edwards.
How many artists Hoare inspired is incalculable but his biplane sculpture became so iconic, it was embraced by KQED in their programing and frequently referenced by other artists in their murals and installations including the recent Emeryville Treasure Map mural by Nigel Sussman.
Born in the Ozarks in 1940
Hoare was born in 1940 in Joplin, Missouri along the fabled Route 66 highway.
In 1959, when he was 19, he took a trip to Greenwich Village in New York City which was the epicenter of the Beat Generation cultural movement. It was this trip that changed his trajectory and influenced him to pursue being an artist.
Upon his return, Hoare enrolled in the University of Kansas achieving a bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting in 1963. This is also where he met his life partner, Kathy.
Hoare knew he’d need to abandon home if he was to ever make it as an artist. “In Joplin, I couldn’t be an ‘artist’. They’d tar and feather you,” he recalled in this 2014 story by then Berkeleyside reporter Emilie Raguso.
Hoare often joked that he was “destined” to migrate west because of the 1946 composed “Route 66” song by Bobby Troup. He eventually did.
1965: Settles in Berkeley, CA
In 1965, Hoare moved his young family out west and settled in Berkeley. “We arrived with eight hundred dollars, two suitcases, and a one-year-old daughter,” he scribed in a short biography titled “Mudflat Sculpture.”
Hoare settled into a career as a restaurant designer designing the interiors of several Mel’s Diners and Pizza Parlors. But his true passion was art.
1975: Epic SFMOMA Soap Box Derby
In 1975, Hoare participated in the second SFMOMA Soap Box derby in SF’s McLaren Park. His WWI German biplane structure, inspired by the Charles Schulz “Peanuts” comic strip, was mounted on bicycle wheels with a mock-propeller driven by a lawn mower engine.
Hundreds of spectators lined the street to watch the makeshift structures barrel down John F. Shelley Drive at speeds up to 30 mph.
The experience would influence the rest of Hoare’s career (the legendary event was resurrected last year after being dormant for 47 years).
He later donated the structure to Albany High where his daughter attended school (and somewhat controversially removed in 2019 after a student protested the German military theme).
“I wanted to install my sculptures outdoors where freeway drivers could see them,” he wrote before constructing his next installation. “I called some friends, got two boats, two ladders and, at high tide, we installed my first plane.”
Hoare’s medium was driftwood and other debris he would collect from the mudflats and take to his studio. “When a storm knocks it down, I pick up whatever parts are left along with more driftwood and start again.”
A Legend is Born
Over the next 48 years, Hoare would install over forty iterations of his Sopwith Camel WWII biplane. His pieces outlasted the notorious Emeryville Mudflat Sculptures on the other side of the peninsula the last of which were removed in 1997.
Hoare’s whimsical and often humorous works were mostly anonymous and often ephemeral. They were often stolen or vandalized but he never fretted and chose to rebuild. “[That] plane is having more fun than I do,” was his response when one of his pieces was taken and converted to a cart by a homeless individual.
“When I started out in Emeryville there were 18 posts, … now I’m down to two. I didn’t know I was going to outlive those posts!” he noted in a 2017 interview with us.
Those final two posts eventually did succumb to the elements leaving Hoare scrambling for alternatives to continue his series.
While Hoare was best known for his biplanes, he was prolific in other mediums including embracing the use of early Xerox technology for printmaking in the early 1970’s.
Despite being an early adopter of technology, Tyler was very “analog” and shunned use of email in favor of handwritten letters decorated with his doodles.
His Berkeley Aquatic Park UFO, Public Market “parachute man,” haunting “post people” series and recent anonymous mushroom caps were other signature pieces throughout his career.
Compound Gallery Brings work to new Generation
Tyler began exhibiting his work at the nearby Compound Gallery who provided exposure of his work to a new generation.
Hoare was a regular attendee of Compound’s opening events showing up in his classic, dapper outfits and signature well-manicured beard.
“Some day there will be nothing left, except for the memories of a few generations,” local Journalist Peter Hartlaub prophetically wrote in this 2012 SF Gate story. “That’s the reason I did it,” was Hoare’s response.
“Though his creative flame has been extinguished his spirit lives on in the hundreds of sculptures he has put out into the world.” Compound Gallery wrote in a tearful tribute.
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Tyler stayed active at his Albany studio until his passing. He is survived by his wife of 60 years Kathy and daughter Janet.
The Compound Gallery is planning a wake for Tyler in the coming months. Follow them to stay informed.
Purchase Hoare’s “Mudflat Sculpture” book with photography by Bob Colin on blurb.
Feature Image: Hoare at one of his final public events. The Camron-Stanford House History Fair in September of last year.